Friday, 31 October 2008

Joe The Plumber: Once Again Disgracing Bald People Throughout The World

Well, I've been making some changes to the blog, as you may be able to see. Since I've only got a few minutes left before I go to work, I decided to give you a link to an article that I came across. It's from FOX News, so obviously it's totally infused with the biases of the nation's conservative media, but it's still interesting. Interesting, like, "So this is what it's come to."

Anyhow, "Joe the Plumber" is continuing a long, proud tradition of dimwitted hicks spouting off their opinions about global politics. This tradition can be seen in the comments of Toby "The Antichrist" Keith, Alan Jackson, me (let's be frank), and now Joe.

In any case, even though he apparently doesn't have a plumbing license, he must have a master's degree in political science, because on the campaign trail he recently said, "I do know that" in response to a person saying that a vote for Obama is a vote for the death of Israel.

In fact, I can hardly do the article justice by just describing it, so here is an excerpt:

At a stop in Columbus, he fielded the question on Israel from a self-identified Jewish senior citizen.

The questioner said he was "concerned" with Barack Obama's associations and "It's my belief that a vote for Obama is a vote for the death to Israel."

Wurzelbacher responded: "I do know that."

The questioner then complained about Obama's tax policies and reiterated his Israel comment.

"Well, you know what, I'll actually go ahead and agree with you on that one," Wurzelbacher said. "You know ... no, I agree with ya.'"

Wurzelbacher's first trip to the podium as a McCain surrogate was freewheeling. He often apologized to reporters gathered in a flag store for talking from his gut.

"I'm honestly scared for America," Wurzelbacher said.

Joe Wurzelbacher, ladies and gentlemen. Unlicensed Plumber, Bald Dipshit, and Geopolitical Analyst Extraordinaire.

From Moscow To Sochi With Train

Russia is a big country. From the times of the SU there was a great migration of the persons from one to other part of it. Somebody wanted to find best life, other looked for romantic, many young persons went to very far places, where the Motherland sent them after she finished to educate them (logicaly, the Motherland needed them in the places where nobody wanted to live or to work).

So, today we have the situation that many families have members all over the ex-SU. To visit our parents and relatives we use trains mostly (when possible). The peculiarity of our trains is that they are slow. So, to to make a little trip like that I had to do, only about 2000 km, you need some days. I had a very rapid train, I came in Sochi after only 24 hours.

Here is the second class sleeper. My place was that upper there. And it was very comfortable travel.

All you can do in this days is to look through the windows. Sleep, read and eat. One day it is possible to survive, specially if you found a very good company in your carriage.

Our train had only some stops on it's road. And it is good. I remember when I was a little girl, my parents wanted to visit my grandies that lived in Nord Kazachstan and Altai. We travelled about 5 days, our train stopped near every post, people went down to pick up flowers, than train began to move and they jumped in it. Fortunatelly nobody remained on the way... Our family was in the last carriage and we, children, set in the open door of that carriage with the legs out in air...

Today it's unpossible, I think. But the stops remain a great joy of the travellers. They go out and walk here and there, buy something in the shops if they have time. For the persons that live near these railway stations it's a good way to sell something the travellers need. Something to eat mostly. Like hot potatoes, cakes, vegetables, fruits, drinks. If they have fish in that village, they sell fish, if honey, they sell honey. Everything they can. Women -mostly- come to the trains with great bags full of all that and go from one carriage to the other and offer it to travellers standing near them.

The most loved and eccellent way to pass time in good company in train is to drink tea.
There are tea-lovers that drink it all the way paused only by train-stops, toilet and sleep (if they decide to sleep).
Till today we have this special model of glass with glass holder that seems to be the most important part of travel in train in Russia. Well, everybody takes own glass from home in train today, but these glasses are there in the carriage, and the conductor gives it to you if you ask about it. You have to pay tea now, but you can do it only the first time and then use your own tea or coffee with this glass till you come on your destination.

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Our Loc Envel walk - by Lesley and Denise

Photos above thanks to Dick Westcott

What more perfect way could there be to spend a sunny autumn afternoon than to walk through a beech wood, luminous under a glowing sun that reflects on the golden trees wetted earlier by a seasonal downpour. Crisp fallen leaves tracing a footpath of gold as they rustle beneath your feet. All this, great company, homemade fruitcake, and chocolate brownies�.. As we drove through hail and rain under purple black clouds, nothing seemed less likely.
The first surprise came as we drove into the car park at Loc Envel, the smallest village in Cotes d�Armor boasting a population of just seventy. We expected to be two of just half a dozen brave or foolish souls who would even contemplate an afternoon�s country walking in such appalling weather. However, we were just two of twenty four enthusiastic walkers and four dogs. What�s more, the sun was shining!
We set off along a tree-lined footpath to our
first interesting pause - the Chateau de Coat Noz (Wood of the Night). Built in the 19th century, this magnificent building, now derelict, gave the impression of being very much older. Wendy, a treasure chest of the most fascinating historical information, told us that the chateau was a gift from Sir Robert Mond, a nickel magnet, to his wife, a miller�s daughter from Belle-Isle-en-Terre.
Lady Mond was evidently a �swinger� of her time and loved to party. After a spell in Paris and a brief marriage, she returned and settled down here with Sir Robert. Looking at this lovely building, one can imagine the �Beautiful People� draped around the ancient stone staircases, now entangled with brambles, sipping champagne and dancing the night away. Today, it was a huge flock of rooks that provided the �music� and irridescent pigeons that looked down upon us from the glassless windows high above our heads.
We then followed a botanical trail of trees and plants marked with plaques giving their names and further information on the species. A huge sculpture of a Fly Agaric toadstool stood in all its red and white spotted glory in the middle of a clearing to the left of the path.
We continued up the other side of the Guic valley, then down to the river, where there stood an old water mill, now serving very well as somebody�s dream home. Wendy told us that in its hey day the mill served both as a saw mill and a flour mill. It also supplied enough electricity for every home in the village to run a 25 watt light bulb. A
very timely downpour brought us to a halt on the riverside path under the shelter of golden branches, where we were treated to a welcome drink of apple juice and a slice of Sue�s delicious home made cake.
Refreshed, we wound our way along the babbling river that tumbled around rocks and boulders, flanked on either side by coppered ferns. We crossed the river and took a path leading upwards past a fontaine, faced by three menhirs. We eventually came to a clearing where there stands a stone oratory dating from 1892, with a statue of St. Sebastian. This provided a great backdrop for today�s group photograph.
The final part of our walk back to the village, took us along a stretch of footpath lined on either side by huge moss covered stones that resembled giant green fluffy cushions. These, along with some magnificent boulders of quartz, formed part of an old wall, giving the footpath the same look as the old drovers� roads in England. On returning to the village, there was one final treat in store - the 16th century church overlooking the little bourg in its care, three huge bronze bells visible in the open bell tower. What a stunning interior awaited us! The carved wood rood screen is exceptional. Indeed, the entire decoration inside this church is a credit to the skills and craftsmanship of carpenters and wood sculptors from centuries past. The domed gothic ceiling is entirely of wood, giving the impression of an upturned boat, and everywhere on the ceiling are polychrome sculptures of saints, angels, and dragons.
Driving back home under purple black clouds and through torrential rain and hail it seemed almost like a fantasy that the sun had shone down on us for the almost all of our afternoon�s walk. They say that the sun shines on the righteous. That may or may not be true. However, one thing�s certain, we had just spent a near perfect afternoon in some very good company - dogs included - and there were chocolate brownies!

Boy Banned

I�m not sure why, but I still hate Leonardo DiCaprio. Yeah, I know, like 15 years later. Maybe it�s his goateed, dog-faced head, but I just can�t like this guy.

I�ve made amends with the other boy idols that the girls of my generation swooned over. Brad Pitt is actually a good actor and seems like a cool guy; perhaps �Legends of the Fall� was just a shitty, shitty fluke. Mark �Marky Mark� Wahlberg is still a Wahlberg, but at least he was good in �Three Kings� and �Boogie Nights,� and if I were a casting director, he�d be my go-to guy when I was looking for someone who could nail the role of a kind-hearted dumbass. Even Robbie Williams is off my Shit List. Maybe if I were a European male I�d feel obliged to hate Williams, but since he hardly shows up in the American consciousness, it�s easier to defend liking him. And I actually like his songs.

But what is it about Leonardo DiCaprio? It can�t just be me, can it?

Saturday, 25 October 2008


Well, the other day we found out that our cat eats gallo pinto (rice and beans) and burnt scrambled eggs--at least if you leave them out long enough.

This is considered a good development for all concerned.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008


Today I voted. It was kinda fun, and it was even better that I didn�t have to wait in line for two hours at a senior center or elementary school with a bunch of other losers to do so.

I was only allowed to vote for three things: President, Senator, and Representative. I guess that comes with the territory when you�re using a mail-in ballot and you�re located �overseas� (Let�s call the Gulf of Mexico a �sea�). That may have been an advantage, too, because I didn�t have to take the time to be a Well-Informed Voter and read through all the other ballot issues. I also didn�t have to tolerate months and months of ads about how Amendment X will take your guns away and give your children to the state; or, how Candidate Y is really a mass-murdering Feminazi, and therefore soft on crime� and she�ll raise your taxes!

One interesting thing about the ballot (spoiler alert!): Whoever said that the US is a two-party system was a bit off. Sure, there are only two parties that matter, but there are actually 16 different choices for President. What a country! Play some 1950s-style shopping music and have a look at these parties you can choose from:

-HeartQuake �08
-Socialist Workers
-Boston Tea
-America�s Independent
-Socialism and Liberation
-U.S. Pacifist
-Socialist, USA

This is great! I couldn�t make up some of these parties� names if I tried! �HeartQuake �08�? �Boston Tea�? �Prohibition�? I love it! Pure comedy gold, guys. I also love how there is evidently so much disunity in the modern American Socialist reality that they need three parties to represent them. Also, isn't Objectivism somehow related to Literary Theory? I know I wasn't the best student in that Grad School Seminar, but I'm almost expecting the next election to have a tight race between the Semioticists, the Neo-Hermeneutics, and the Post-Structuralists.

Basically, it seems that any whackjob with a bit of a grudge against the �gub�mit� can form his or her own party and run for President. In fact, don�t be surprised if you have the option of voting for the Whackjob Party�s candidates in 2012: President Ryan Sitzman and Vice-President LaToya Jackson (a shrewd political move on my part designed to get out the lady-vote and the African-American vote).
Now that�s the American Dream!

Anyhow, my friends, this was the easiest voting experience I�ve ever had. Now it�s just up to the Correos Postal Service of Costa Rica and the US Postal Service to quickly and efficiently get my ballot to the County Clerk�s Office in Boulder, Colorado.

In no time, my ballot should be in a cardboard box in a shed behind the San Ram�n Correos building, and I can be sure that by November 4th, I�ll be a newly disenfranchised voter.

Vote or die, kids.

PS-I think �Votation,� the title of this post, may actually be a word, but I just put it up there as a tribute to some of my old elementary school students. Whenever they wanted to say an English word that they didn�t know, they�d just use a Spanish word and add �-ation� to the end, thereby making it "English" somehow; ie: �Mesation,� �Pegation,� �Chunchation,� or �Lapization.�
Thank God I don�t teach Elementary School anymore.

We have a walk next Tuesday (28th) at Loc Envel (near Belle-Isle-en-Terre), where the church has a fine wooden rood-screen dating from the 16th century. We will also have a look at the semi-ruined chateau once owned by Lady Mond. This is an easy route (6kms), not too long or too hilly, with restful woodland and river scenery. All are welcome - meet in village car-park at 2.00pm.

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

An Offer I Couldn't Refuse

A few weeks ago, my brother Paul asked me on his website if I wanted to enter politics and run for co-president with him. I tried to put a reply on his website from a few different computers, but for some reason I was unable to. The answer: Hell yeah.

Obviously, my co-presidental running mate brings a whole wealth of foreign policy hoodlumism experience to the ticket, but I myself have also stirred up the establishment, too. And, since I�m now running for office, I�ll officially beat the press and release my own incriminating picture. The following picture of me was taken a few years ago at the World Naked Bike Ride in Boulder.

It was a sort of protest against overusing oil, so I made a sign that said �I don�t need oil to be greasy.� Unlike many other fellow bikers, I didn�t go naked, mainly cause I don�t like riding bikes anyhow, and I couldn�t have imagined they�d be any more comfortable naked. Oh yeah, and that�s a Viking helmet over my bike helmet.

Now that that�s out of the way, it�s smooth sailing for our political future. Paul, we�ve only got two weeks to convince the electorate to vote us into the presidency, so we better get going. I suppose that our biggest disadvantage�that we have no political experience�can be cancelled out by our biggest advantage: the nation isn�t sick and tired of hearing our names for the past two years.

Monday, 20 October 2008

Now, What Happened To That Rat's Ass I Had Laying Around For Just Such An Occasion?

If you�ve never heard of Maria Jose Castillo, then consider yourself lucky. She was the runner up for the latest season of Latin American Idol (yes, it exists), and she happens to be from Costa Rica. Now, I�ve never watched American Idol in either its �Regular� or �Latin� flavors. Basically, I�m not into bullshit. And I probably wouldn�t even bring up this poor 19-year-old�s name on my blog (and thereby help perpetuate her fame) if I didn�t have to run across her face in the newspaper every day, even weeks after she lost to the chick from Panama.

As I said, I never actually watched the show, so perhaps this girl�s voice is like some sort of sonic orgasm. That would explain why she�s already met with the president�the president of the nation�on various occasions and why, when she�s not busy chatting it up with El Se�or Presidente, she�s busy giving interviews or hanging out with the national soccer team.

The media oversaturation is still bad now, but it was almost intolerable in the days leading up to the call-in voting. I didn�t know that these Idol shows chose their winners based on the number of call-in votes that the contestants received; silly me, I thought that a singing competition show might have something to do with singing talent. But in any case, there is absolutely nothing wrong with buying votes. In fact, it�s very, very encouraged. Supermarkets were taking out full-page ads supporting Maria Jose, and if you bought 5,000 colones (10 dollars) in products, for example, then the store would call in a vote for you. A couple of these ads can be seen in the picture below and at the top of this post.

Aside from being an abhorrent reality show in the first place, Latin American Idol nicely illustrated a few things that are wrong with Costa Rican thought today. First of all, there�s the already-mentioned idea that elections can be bought. Second of all, there�s the full-on embrace of the �home team,� no matter how bad that home team may be or how deserving the competition may be. In fact, the coverage here did everything possible to avoiding mentioning the other finalist, who was some girl from Panama with curly hair. We may never know if this Panamanian girl sings well or not; what is clear, though, is that she could somehow get more people to pay for a phone call to support her.

Hey, by the way, even though Maria Jose didn�t actually win, the Toyota agency in San Jose still gave her a 2009 Yaris. Oh, and did I mention that according to one of these countless interviews she�s done, she doesn�t actually know how to drive? (Sound of Ryan repeatedly punching a cinderblock wall... with his face).

For me, though, it�s all just such an overwhelming embrace of Televised Schlock and Elementary School Field Day-Style Mediocrity, that for once I just don�t know what else to say.

Saturday, 18 October 2008

Smoked Out

The checkup was going fine until the doctor asked the inevitable question from the form. That one question. The one I knew he would eventually get to. I hadn�t made up my mind if I�d lie or not.
He asked the question.
�Do you smoke?�
I hesitated for a moment, and my hesitation caused a slight frown of doubt to form on his forehead.
�Well,� I answered, �Not anymore. But I did in the past.�
I�d told the truth after all.
In a slightly lowered voice with a hint of concern, he asked me how much I had smoked.
�Not that much.�
Like how much? How many per day?
�Oh, I guess a couple.�
Oh my, a couple of packs?
�No no, a couple of cigarettes per day at the most, on average. But there were some days when I didn�t smoke. Weeks even, in fact.�
The frown disappeared, and with a dismissing chuckle he said, �But that hardly even counts. Can you even call yourself a smoker?�

That checkup was about a year ago. I�ve not had a single cigarette for over two whole years now. But you know the interesting thing? The science appears to have been right: those little things are addictive!

In the subsequent two years since I quit, I�m pretty sure that not a single day has passed where I�ve not passed a hoodlum on the street corner and thought, �Hmm, that smoke actually smells pretty nice.� Or this: �I don�t suppose it would do much harm to have an occasional smoke�except then I�d disappoint Angela.� In fact, it was meeting my future wife that motivated me to stop for good. Like I said, I was never a heavy smoker by anyone�s measure, and I think that very fact made it harder to realize that�shocker!�those flavorful little tobacco sticks probably weren�t that good for me after all.

How did I get into smoking, and how was I able to keep it casual? Contrary to what D.A.R.E. may say, simply taking a single drag from a cigarette won�t turn you into a two-pack-a-day smoker within mere days. Here�s an analogy for you: politicians cannot merely rely on votes from their party�s base; they also need swing voters to get elected and stay in office. In the same way, cigarette companies can�t count on just the support of heavy smokers; they also need a strong turnout from casual and �social� smokers to stay in business. Additionally, when a society has a large number of people who smoke only socially or when they�re �out drinking with friends,� that group helps perpetuate a general acceptance of the existence of their habit within that society. Or so it would seem to me; I�m not a sociologist. Still, I was in that group of occasional smokers, and--either through willpower or sheer luck--I luckily remained in that group for 6 or 7 years, without moving on to become a heavy smoker.

Most of my time spent smoking was when I was in college and while traveling, and those are two times when you almost have to smoke; smoking just seems to be part and parcel of those particular experiences. My surroundings probably weren�t conducive to quitting, either, since many of my friends fell into the category of �occasional smokers.� This seemed to be especially true of the people I interacted with in Germany, as well as my fellow students in the German Department at CU. I guess there�s just something inherently Teutonic about inhaling hot smoke into your lungs; maybe it helps you express all that Weltschmerz and Schadenfreude. And speaking of Germans, I should also note that while I was an exchange student in their country, on various occasions I was even offered after-dinner cigarettes by my host parents�and they were both doctors! I believe they justified their occasional habit by waiting until the kids had gone to bed and by smoking only �Ultra Light� cigarettes.

So why would someone even smoke in the first place? Good question, and I�ll give you three great answers:
1) It�s cool
2) It�s delicious
and, of course�
3) It�s addictive.
Unfortunately, any anti-smoking campaign will try to gloss over those first two points and focus all its firepower the third one. Sure, smoking is stupid, and sure, it�ll almost certainly kill you eventually, but it�s still something to do when you�re bored and trying to look hip and/or edgy.

I guess I�m not sure why I�m even mentioning all this, except to say that I�m probably glad I quit. You know, I�m sending a Positive Message to the Youth of Today. We�re all about public service over here at Sitzblog. I should also mention that I�m glad I�ve ended up in a country where most people don�t seem to smoke, and that I�m married to a wonderful wife who would probably browbeat the shit out of me if I were to pick up the habit again.
But still, when I leave work and walk past the little cluster of smokers outside, I walk just a little bit slower.
Ummm, don�t do drugs, kids!

(Photo Credits: Since I was only an occasional smoker, and since it was also the Dawn of the Age of Digital Cameras, I had trouble finding pictures of me smoking. These two were the only ones I could come up with after scouring my hard drive. The first one is of me smoking after a soccer game. I founded The �nn�c�ss�r� �ml��ts, our German Department soccer team. One of our principles--besides an all-abiding dislike of soccer and an aversion to scoring goals--was that a nice cigarette at halftime was OK and even to be encouraged. It helped the oranges and Capri Suns go down.
The second picture is from circa 2004, I believe. It's of me and my buddy Chris in Manayunk, outside Philadelphia. I believe his friend took the picture.)

PS- Sorry mom.

Meet the Members (3) Three Lovely Ladies

June, Val and Mary (l-r above) are stalwart supporters of Brittany Walks. All three are great walkers and have been keen to keep fit since moving to Brittany.
June � a former county badminton player and teacher in Northamptonshire � is also an experienced sailor, having travelled around Europe with her husband by boat. After settling in Cornwall for a while, they came to Glomel five years ago and she has explored the countryside on foot with friends as well as joining many of our walks.
Mary and her husband used to be members of the Rambling Association in England and particularly enjoyed walking on Dartmoor. After retiring from the prison service, they moved to Brittany and kept up the walking habit with a group of friends. Mary is also a keen artist and we hope to see her work at the Xmas event.
Val has been in Brittany for 11 years after a career in the insurance industry. Having walked in the north of England over many years, she continued in France by joining a local group of randonneurs in Langonnet. Unfortunately her husband is no longer able to walk long distances, but Val continues to enjoy walking with us and discovering local history.

Friday, 17 October 2008

A Future Novelist In Our Midst

Just so you know, I am going to write a novel.

My friend Brad told me about this site last year, which promotes November as a National Novel Writing Month. Check it out. The guidelines are easy: In the month of November, you have to write a novel. Sounds good. I always wanted to be able to say that I�ve written a novel, so hopefully by November 30th, I�ll be able to say that.

Now, there are a few catches. First of all, I suck at writing fiction. Second of all, I don�t have a topic. But that doesn�t matter, since the site is geared more towards quantity than quality (and it explicitly states that). Aside from the satisfaction of being able to say you wrote a novel, there are no prizes, but if you complete the challenge, you can say that you �won.� To �win,� your novel needs to have at least 50,000 words, which apparently works out to the equivalent of 175 pages or so. Especially since I don�t have a topic, that number kind of concerned me, until I saw that my Nicaragua story had about 8,000 words (and I wrote that in one long evening). I know that there�s definitely a difference between writing non-fiction (easy) and fiction (hard), but I still have a feeling I�ll be able to pass that 50,000 word mark.

So, wish me luck. If you�re interested, you can also join and try to write your own novel. We can take part in some long-distance, coffee-based commiseration and egg each other on to the finish line. In the meantime, I�ll try to keep some sort of word count tally on either this blog or, although I�ll still have the same internet connection issues that I usually have. And who knows, if any part of what I write turns out to be worth a damn, then maybe I�ll put some of it up here or on my website.

Now, if you�ll excuse me, I have to start writing an outline.

Thursday, 16 October 2008

The Return of Ryangela Junior

Please allow me to paraphrase and totally rip-off a phrase that my friends Zach, Andy, and Soup said when they got their cat Sampson: �Angela and I both got a little pussy last weekend.�

That�s right: despite our repeated protests that we have nowhere to put a cat and that it�s been raining non-stop for about a week now, Angela�s sister Teresa �returned� Ryan Junior to us. That was the little blond cat that we found in the road, you�ll remember. He�s not as little now, and Teresa said that he was sucking the mother cat at their house dry.

So, now we have a cat. Since we still don�t know jack about kitten anatomy, we�ve taken sides as to what the cat is; I think it�s a boy, Angela suspects a girl. Also, its eyes have changed from blue to a sort of green, so calling it Ryan Junior wasn�t as accurate anymore, since Angela also had blond hair when she was a girl. So, we named it Ryangela Junior.

It�s going to be an outside cat, but right now, I feel kind of bad for it since it�s raining so much. He's got a nice little area in the room in the back, but still, it's a crappy room. Plus, I think it still wants a mam� cat, since it�s always trying to climb up on us and get milk from our necks. The picture above (taken by Angela) is of me and Ryangela Junior. When he sits on my shoulder like that, I sort of feel like a pirate with a parrot. A really, really annoying and repetitive parrot that only says �meow.�

But he�s soooo cute.

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Howard's account of our Langonnet Abbey walk

(thanks to Dick for the excellent photos)
An impressive group of 32 members and guests, plus 4 dogs, assembled in the car park of Langonnet Abbey for our walk. The weather was overcast, but mild.
The Cistercian Abbey was founded in 1136 and continued as a functioning, flourishing institution until the French Revolution, after which it remained empty until 1806 when Napoleon, leaving the monks� vows of chastity far behind, made it the first National Stud Farm. Later in its history it became the base for the Freres de Saint Esprit Missionary Order and they are still there to this day.
Once away from the Abbey confines our walk took us through a wooded area flanked by a gurgling stream where the path was strewn with freshly shed chestnuts. Two fallen trees provided the group with Agility Tests number 1 and 2 -duck under the first and clamber over the second.
In true grand old Duke of York style Wendy marched us up to the top of Morvan�s hill and marched us down again. In between times she explained that Menez Morvan was the last fortified stronghold of the 9th century Breton chief, Morvan, but that he was captured and beheaded in 818 by the forces of Louis the, on this occasion, not so Pious.
The walk then proceeded through a marshy area alongside a cow pasture. The cows were held at bay by an electrified fence that in Agility Test No 3 required Steve and Roger to raise the fence with wooden sticks so that the group could limbo beneath it. All managed this successfully. The cows watched with interest, presumably seeing this as a possible escape route for themselves. The last I heard was that they were still looking for volunteers to hold the fence up. At this point I happened to notice that the marshy area had transformed our Golden Retrievers into a new breed of Black Muddy Retrievers.
We then had our cake stop. Karen gave us a choice of raspberry and coconut buns, pear and almond buns, or a French carresau citron. By clever planning on Karen�s part there were enough cakes and more to go round. I tried the pear and almond bun. It was excellent. I tried to lay my hands on a raspberry and coconut bun, but without success. All snapped up within seconds of being on offer. Note to cake monitor, Liz -ask Karen again, soon, please.
Continuing on our walk, duly refreshed, we passed a Bronze Age tumulus dating from 1500 B.C., long since robbed of its treasures and contents, and an early medieval motte. The wooden tower had gone but there were still remains of a dovecote. The motte had been built in fairly low lying country so its presence may have been more symbolic than practical.
At the end of the walk we had an opportunity to look around the Abbey. All in all an excellent walk in good company. Special thanks to Wendy and Karen.
Howard Lawson

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Juice By Sitzman! Juice By Sitzman! Goooooooooooo Sitzman!

So the other night I watched �Requiem for a Dream� again. Man, why do I keep doing that?? Didn�t I swear as I walked out of the movie theater in Regensburg, Germany 7 about years ago, that although it was a great movie, I�d never be able to watch it again?
Well, with multiple viewings in the meantime, I suppose I can consider that another broken promise due to my movie addiction. I guess that even if the movie is absolutely disturbing, you still have to admit that it�s just excellent in so many different ways (Could we get another close-up of that infected arm, please? Thanks). This time, I borrowed the DVD from my friend from work, Roberto �Robby� Monterrosa. I watched the special features, which include a short interview where Ellen Burstyn, the brilliant actress who played Sarah Goldfarb, interviews Hubert Selby Jr., the author of the novel upon which �Requiem for a Dream� is based. The interview is insightful for a few reasons.
The first reason I enjoyed the interview was because I could see with my own eyes that Ellen Burstyn is actually a normal person; I guess her performance as a widow addicted to weight-loss uppers was a strong testament to both her superb acting abilities and a great on-set makeup and wardrobe department. The second interesting thing was Hubert Selby Jr. himself.

Selby is a pretty strange guy�you almost have to be a bit off-kilter to write something like Requiem for a Dream--and he looks even stranger when you see him (see picture above). As my wife Angela said, �If I were that guy, I�d be sure to never open my mouth when I smiled.� But all horrid teeth aside, Selby seems to be a very fascinating guy with quite a few perceptive things to say about writing in general.
When recounting how he decided to become an author, Selby says: �I knew the alphabet, so I figured I could write. See, sometimes distortions and insanity and arrogance; all these things can work to your advantage.� He explains this a bit, saying, �I�m probably the most untalented person that�s ever lived. I don�t have natural abilities; none whatsoever.�
Replying to this statement, Burstyn asks, �How can you be a writer and not have natural ability to write?�
Selby replies: �By sitting down and writing every day of your life, until you�ve learned how to write.�

For me, this was an enlighteningly simple thought. Despite having written around a hundred essays and term papers in my college and grad school career, as well as having created multiple websites dedicated to things I�ve written, I still would hesitate to call myself a writer. I guess that because I�ve never been paid for doing this, or because I�ve never been �published,� then I almost feel like I�ll be mocked if I say that I�m a writer. Maybe I feel that Shakespeare and Joyce will come out of their graves, shove me around a bit, and call me a big pussy. So, I always qualify any such statement by saying that writing is something I enjoy doing in my free time, along with walking around, rearranging my books, or drinking while trying to bake bread.
But when I heard Selby say the quote above, a sort of light went on in my head, and I thought, �Hey, I guess I�m a writer, too!� I further identified with this intuitive fellow with the goofy exterior when he said: �I had this obsession to do something with my life; I didn�t want to waste it. And so I came home every night and I wrote and wrote��

This quote inspired me. It told me to keep going, to continue writing, and in the end, maybe I�ll get good at this whole �writing� thing. And who cares if no one reads any of this? In the end, there�s always going to be a chance that someone will read and/or enjoy it, and hopefully something good will come of this whole pursuit.
In the meantime, I�ll leave you with another Selby quote from the interview, although it�s a bit tangential. He talked a lot about the hard times that he�s gone through in his life, and how they�ve influenced his writing. He mentions, though, that those experiences also helped him become a more effective and inspiring writer. As Selby says near the end of the interview:

�Unless I can relate to the suffering of people, I cannot offer a solution to the suffering.�

Monday, 13 October 2008


The other night I got pretty wired on mat� (I know, it doesn�t have caffeine, but still, it works) and I came up with the idea of �Blogtoberfest.� Basically, I just liked the word, but I didn�t actually know what kind of concept it could represent. But then it hit me: Oktoberfest is all about exceeding one�s limits and drinking until you puke, so maybe Blogtoberfest could be about pushing myself to the limits and blogging until I throw up a couple liters of beer and a few kilos of Schweinshax�n and Sauerkraut.

Essentially, I really want to keep adding posts to this blog more frequently. In my office and in my calendar, I have a ton of post-it notes with blog ideas that I�ve never had a chance to flesh out, so now I�d like to make the time to do that in what remains of October. I was partially inspired to do this by my brother Paul�s �Doctober� project, and by an interview I saw with Hubert Selby Jr., the guy who wrote �Requiem for a Dream� (more about that in a few days).

Also, I mainly just wanted to use the word �Blogtoberfest,� which seemed freaking brilliant, and whose statute of limitations will naturally expire when November rolls around.

So, stay tuned, and I�ll do my best to bring you not only quality, but also quantity. As we all say �Eins, zwei, g'suffa!�, let�s tap the keg of my brain and let the Blogtoberfest ideas flow!

(Photo credits: Lately I have been trying to use pictures that I�ve taken myself, mainly because I�m concerned about giving credit where credit is due, and also because it gives this blog more of a holistic, �Sitzman-esque� experience. That�s why I used a picture of a �God Bless America� bumper sticker in Angela�s closet when I was talking about why Sarah Palin is a tool. And today, as you can maybe imagine, there�s no Oktoberfest celebration going on in Costa Rica, so I had to find the only �Krauty� pictures I�d taken. These are from 2006, at a beer garden in Munich. It wasn�t during Oktoberfest, but rather a World Cup game between Germany and Argentina. A game that Germany won, thanks to my lucky �Deutschland� underwear. You can see more pictures from that particular trip by clicking on this link.
Oh, and about the pictures.
The first one is of two random chicks in their Dirndls--the traditional dress. If you do an internet search for the word �Dirndl,� you might be surprised that this traditional garment is being sexed up for the new generation. Then again, you probably wouldn�t be surprised, since that�s what fashion is all about: making peasant garb sexy.
The second picture is of a girl selling Big Pretzels at the beer garden. Especially now with the exchange rate hurting the dollar, 3 Euros 30 seems pretty damn expensive. I didn�t actually buy a pretzel, though, since pretzels make me angry, for some reason).

Sunday, 12 October 2008

Langonnet Abbey

We have a walk this Tuesday (14th) starting at 2pm from the abbey parking area, with a gentle rural route passing many points of historical interest, including a Bronze age tumulus and a medieval motte. Langonnet Abbey was originally a 12th century Cistercian foundation: after the Revolution it became an important haras breeding war-horses, and is now a missionary centre, with an excellent African museum (limited opening) on site. All are welcome to join us for this event.

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

committee meeting

This morning we had a committee meeting to discuss the Xmas event we are organising for December 12th. This is to be a festive occasion with things to do, things to buy, and seasonal fare, like mulled cider and hot chestnuts. We spend a long time trying think of ways of making the day enjoyable for members and their guests. There will be workshops (card-making and cake-decorating in the morning, morris dancing and upholstery in the afternoon), tarot readings, stalls with walk/guide books and gifts for sale, and the new Brittany Walks Cookbook with some fabulous cake recipes will be available for the first time. Not forgetting gift memberships to Brittany Walks for 2009 - what a perfect present idea!
So we have a lot to talk about -with plenty of food and drink details to be decided and tasks to be assigned, as well as all the entertainment to be organised - and the morning passes quickly, but very pleasantly, thanks to our great hosts John and Joan.

And Now, Back to Our Randomly Scheduled Blogging

The summer blogging hiatus is over. All those stories that have been hibernating in my head must now wake up and get ready to come forth on to the pages here. It's been quite a time--not just the summer, but this whole year, it seems. It seemed appropriate to begin with a fresh new look, and what better way than to have a happy little white-throated sparrow to announce that for me on the top of the page?

Green is not the predominant color any longer, however. If you follow the blogs of the Gunflint Trail, you know that we have been awash in loads of color for the last several weeks. The birch and aspen that surround the lodge are luminous these past few days. Even when the clouds and rain are filling the sky, it is as bright in here as though sunshine filled the windows. A wonderful onslaught of color and light, short-lived as it is.

My personal barometer for judging the fall color progress was lost last year in the Ham Lake fire. I always looked to the Canadian shore for the markers that signaled how the season was doing. We still see color over there---green vegetation all summer long--but it tends to turn to brown in the latter part of August. To get a better idea of how things are changing overall, I need to get out into a boat, or take a drive along the trail. Fortunately, I've had a chance to do both in the last week. My camera was not with me either time, but I can say that there are still many leaves on the trees, so it ain't over yet. And I was happily surprised to see a good bit of color at the east end of the lake, in an area I thought had been more heavily affected by the fire. This has been a year of discovery, seeing in several places trees that survived the fire but didn't leaf out last year.

Wildlife sightings have started to pick up. I actually saw my first wolf since my photo opportunity of last May. It was crossing the Trail near the Iron Lake campground. As is so often the case, by the time I reached the spot in the road where he had been, he was long gone, having disappeared into the thick brush of the roadside. Some guests saw a fine bull moose on our side road one evening as they drove along. The moose wanted to stay in the road, so they just followed behind slowly, at a respectable distance. They noticed that the moose was startled every time he passed a driveway, as their headlights bounced off of the blue emergency numbers. The moose would shake his head and look back at them, likely wondering who was following him.

The birds are quieter, but definitely active. I had finally given up on trying to feed them last spring and early summer. But now I notice that the chickadees and nuthatches are hanging around the side porch more, and it makes me think that they are looking for the feeder that usually hangs there. I'll take a chance and put it back out, and hope that the bears are still far deep in the woods, unable to smell it. But I'll keep the supply of seeds in the lodge for a little while longer.

The resort is quieter, but the list of things to do remains long. We're tackling the priorities, and throwing in some extra projects just to keep things lively. I'll get out there with my camera and start to catch up here, just in case you are interested.

Until then, enjoy the days--they smell so sweet at this time of the year.

�A Whole Nation Full of People I Wouldn't Do? Now THAT'S Dangerous.

Last night in the English class I teach, I had my students watch a live video of the presidential debates. It was a good listening practice for them, and they enjoyed it quite a bit. We started to talk about the debate afterwards, but we ran out of time. We'll continue that discussion today, and I'll tell you if something insightful comes from their comments (a possible preview: the Electoral College is bafflingly fucked up and confusing).
Still, after the debate I had to apologize to my students for one of my native nation's shortcomings: evidently anyone who is politically-minded in the US is sorrowfully unattractive. I noticed this about an hour into the video feed, at which point I challenged my students to find a single attractive person in the debate audience.
My students failed.
Oh, U.S.A.
The "A" in your name used to stand for "Attractive," did it not? What happened? I mean, I know it was filmed in Nashville, and not Hollywood or Miami Beach, but surely we--as a strong nation proud of its Hottie Heritage--could have airlifted in some bombshell in a bikini, or at least a stern-looking man with chiseled features and a purposeful glint in his eye? Right?
Come on, America. The world is watching you.
At least put on some freaking makeup.

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Nothing Beats the Heat and Cures Bereavement Like a Nice, Cool Sno-Cone!

The rainy season�or �green season,� as the marketing geniuses at the Costa Rican Institute of Tourism call it�is now in full swing down here in Coast Tasty, but recently there was an uncharacteristically hot and sunny day. On that day I was driving through Palmares to get to work, and I passed by a cemetery. Traffic was backed up because there were a ton of people on the side of the road.

These type of minor traffic jams always happen around here, usually because drivers can�t resist slowing down to check out what might turn out to be a terrifically horrid traffic accident. But this time, the rubberneckers were surely disappointed, because the crowd on the side of the road was mobbing together for a different reason. As the mourners were leaving a funeral service, they were all stopping to buy granizados�which are basically sno-cones topped with powdered milk and condensed milk--from a grizzled old man with a bike-mounted cart, which he had conveniently parked at the front gate to the cemetery.

Having traffic get held up for such an absurd reason would have normally caused me to go half-berserk and curse repeatedly to myself, but on this hot day, I could only smile and wonder at the marketing genius of this slightly morbid vendor.

(By the way, the guy in the picture above is not the actual old man I just mentioned; I took this picture at a festival in San Ram�n just after I arrived in Costa Rica, and I�m merely using it for deliciously illustrative purposes).

Monday, 6 October 2008

Updated Construction Sblog

September was a really rainy month and as a result, our house construction slowed down more than normal, even. It rained and it rained and it rained. It rained like something out of a Gabriel Garc�a M�rquez novel, and I was afraid it would do something "magically realistic" and wash the whole village of Berl�n down the freaking mountainside. Fortunately, it didn't, and the house--as well as the town--are still there.
In any case, if you're bored on the internet today, check out our house construction blog. I added a few new pictures last night. Hope you enjoy them!

Sunday, 5 October 2008

"La Seguridad" Is Priority "N�mero Uno"

As I�m sure I�ve mentioned a few times, I work as a teacher at a call center inside a �Free Trade Zone.� Basically, these Zones have �restricted access,� and they are guarded at the entrances and usually have perimeter walls with razor wire around the entire complex.
Inside the Zone I work in, it�s almost like a little city, and in that city there are businesses, cafeterias, banks with ATMs, and any other amenities you could ask for in order to live a full, productive life� except houses, that is. Still, it�s basically like Raccoon City from �Resident Evil,� except it�s not underground, and the guards here are much more apathetic.
In any case, the company I work for has a few ATMs located directly inside the building, to make withdrawing cash easy and safe for employees. The other day, I was going back to my desk after getting a mug of coffee, and I walked past some guys restocking the ATM machine. I thought I�d walked right into the middle of a joke already in progress. Here�s how it goes:

Q: How many Costa Ricans does it take to restock an ATM machine?

A: Four.
1 - A guard employed by the bank, to put money in the machine.
2 � Another guard employed by the bank, to lean on the wall with his hand resting on his gun, watching the first guy.
3 � Another guard employed by the bank, to hold the video camera and film the first two guys as they restock the machine.
4 � A guard from my company, to stand in the background and watch the first three guys, making sure they don�t try anything funny.

And, I suppose, we could also count the many employees who stopped to watch the scene unfold.
Aah, Costa Rica.
Hey, you know, I heard in some countries they have these things they call �checks,� and you can send them through a system called �postal service� to pay for bills.
Now that�s weird.

Appledore Book Festival

This is St Mary's Church in Appledore and my eldest daughter and I came here today as it was the venue for a talk that was part of the Appledore Book Festival. Now in its second year it has managed to attract a fair few famous names to this week long event, including, Tony Benn, Roy Hattersley, Kate Aide, Jeremy Strong and Penny Vincenzi.

We purchased tickets back in May to see Jacqueline Wilson but due to ill health she has cancelled all her speaking engagements this year and we got what Nick Arnold, book festival director, author and Appledore resident, called 'the next best thing', Nick Sharratt, Jacqueline Wilson's illustrator. This was a disappointment to my two youngest daughters who then opted out of the visit. But daughter no.1 and I enjoyed it. He was a little quiet and nervous to start with, but he soon warmed up and it was incredible looking at the drawings he had done at a mere 10 years old. I couldn't do that in a million years!

Anyway - book lovers out there - keep an eye out for next years event. They do have a website, and things do get booked out early.

Saturday, 4 October 2008

Brittany: A Day out in Nature

This weekend sees the annual event 'Une journ�e dans la nature' with a programme of outdoor happenings all over Brittany. Many guided walks are on offer and many animations revealing the vast wealth of natural wonders here. Don't worry about language barriers, just get out there and use your eyes! For details see:

Thursday, 2 October 2008

The Fable Castel To Visit

I have to go in vacation this evening. It will be a travel to Russia. Maybe not too happy and interesting because I go there for the documents, but if you think about the place to visit during your vacation, I have one to advise you. One blogger wrote about it and I like this place soooooo muh that I decided to show you a photo of it here to make you dream befor I'm back and offer you photos of Russia in autumn...

This photo is from the collection of other photos of Neuschweinstein Castle

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

Meet the Members (2)

Joan & John Cundy

Both of us, Joan and John, in our youth, spent happy holidays in France, before we ever met and then again after our marriage. Our real �love-affair with France� began in 1984, when in January, John was invited to join a multinational company in Paris. On the 8th of June, I was offered a position with the same company. In six-short-weeks, I left the job I loved in Leeds, sold our house in Harrogate, kennelled our two dogs and joined John in Paris. By the 13th of August we were �En-Franced�.
In the wonderful years that followed, our walking was in two parts. One: the pavements of Paris, hard on our soles and glorious on our souls. We found ourselves entertaining business, family and friend visitors, frequently. Our love of the history and culture of France meant that our poor visitors were subjected � to it all.
Two: the forest of St Germain, north of Paris, where we had chosen to live and which our dogs adored, having forgiven us for removing them from their beloved Yorkshire. The Autumn and Winter walks hold special memories as the dogs, Highland Rough Collies, preferred these seasons.
Many more joyful years passed between Paris and the Vendee, where we walked the beaches of La Tranche sur Mer, also adored by the dogs, all that sea, sand and space; before we returned to the UK and new careers. The love-affair continued during many holidays in various parts of France. In 2005, retirement brought us to Brittany. Our need to learn the history of the region was ever present. Thus, one fine day John remarked, to me,
Joan � What�s this? � �Brittany Walks� ...
Following many wonderful walks, I can reply ...
This Brittany Walks is: delightful people and their delightful dogs; it�s fun and it�s learning; it�s being in open space, shrouded woods, wild and wonderful coast, warm walled cities, all with the very best of guided knowledge and ... scrummy cake.

Joan Cundy

Menagerie (That's "Menagerie," not "M�nage a trois"... sorry)

About two weeks ago, I was going to write about how Angela and I got three pets in a period of a few days. However, a few short days after that, we were back down to zero pets. So, I�ll give you a run-down of what happened to our temporary mascotas:

This is one of our pets, which I�ve mentioned before. Angela�s sister Teresa�s cat had kittens, and this was one of the kittens that she offered us when they are ready to leave their mother. This is pet number one, which we might have soon. Truth be told, though, I don�t actually care that much for cats, and none will be able to replace dear, departed Pussypie.

This poor, ratty little thing is pet number two. She was an abandoned street dog that showed up at our house construction one day. Diogenes (one of the workers) and Angela took pity on her. They gave her some food and started calling her by the terribly un-subtle name �Somalia.�
She was guarding our house for about a week, when she suddenly disappeared on the weekend. For about two days, Angela and I were worried about her and, knowing that some people around these parts are total assholes when it comes to stray mutts, we feared the worst. Then on Monday, Angela asked Diogenes if he knew what happened to Somalia, and he told her that the incompetent hick that had attached our roof had taken her. As it turns out, Angela had half-jokingly told the guy that he could have the dog, so on Saturday afternoon he�d simply come by and taken her.
The guy is kind of a tool, but I�m glad that the dog�s still alive. I hope that she has a long life full of food.

This is our third pet from that week. One morning as we were hanging out tidying up the living room, we heard a feeble meow coming from in front of our house. We went outside to see what was making the noise, and we saw this little kitten crying in the middle of the street.
Apparently, a lot of times if people around here don�t want an animal, they drive it out to the country and just leave it somewhere. I could begin a gigantic rant here about this very topic, but I won�t. Suffice it say that it infuriates me to think that someone could be so irresponsible and cold to put a little kitten like this in a plastic bag and throw it out of their car. Goddamn bastards.
Fortunately, we got to this kitten before a car could run it over, and we brought it inside. We had no idea what to do with it, so we kind of petted it and put it on the grass. Angela then tried to wash off its ass with the spray nozzle on our hose, since it had a dingleberry (probably related to worms, if I had to guess). Somehow, watching my wife soak this little creature made my own mothering instincts kick in, and I grabbed the kitten and took over from there.
I dried off the poor little thing. I gave it some milk that I warmed up in the microwave, and it drank that happily. I found a box, some newspapers, and a towel, and I set up a house for the little guy in our �Crucifix-Torture Room.� And I even gave him (or her?) this little stuffed animal from Burger King. Content and safe, the kitten finally shut the hell up and slept for about 20 hours.
The next day, we decided to take �Ryan Junior� (the name we gave it, since it has blue eyes and short, ugly blond hair that stands on end) to Angela�s sister Teresa�s house since, as mentioned before, her cat had recently had kittens. Her sister wasn�t too happy with the idea, seeing as they were trying to get rid of animals, not gain them. But Angela told Teresa that if she didn�t care for the kitten, that we wouldn�t take one of the kittens that she was trying to give us. Angela also mentioned that she wouldn�t let Teresa take care of our future kids, since that seems to be something that both her sisters want to do, for some reason.
Anyhow, the mam� cat let Ryan Junior near her to drink milk, and apparently he�s been �attached� to her ever since. They say that the mother�s just about �dry� by now, but at least he�s getting bigger and nicer, and we may be able to take him in soon, once we get a space where we can keep him.

So, in a country filled with heartbreaking stories about animals, here you�ve got three that will hopefully turn out pretty well.
But you damn well better know that we�re getting those cats fixed.